The perfect match, p.51
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       The Perfect Match, p.51

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 51

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  * * *

  TOM WAITED TILL he heard Honor’s car pull out of the parking lot. She’d been crying. Nice, Tom, he thought viciously. Very f**king nice.

  He wanted to tell her what she needed to hear, but he couldn’t. The truth was, not everyone gets saved. Not everyone becomes a better person. His mother didn’t. She never came back, never made an effort once he turned eight. Melissa wasn’t saved, didn’t become a loving wife, didn’t lose her restlessness. She left him, too, to take up with Mitchell.

  It didn’t seem that Charlie would be saved, either. The fact was, Tom wasn’t going to get to find out.

  And Tom’s name could be added to that list, as well.

  He knew what Honor wanted. He just didn’t have it.

  He’d failed with his mother, failed to win her attention and devotion, failed in somewhat the same way with Melissa, failed with Charlie after three long years of trying.

  If he failed with Honor, what then?

  This was not what he signed up for. Honor was supposed to be easy, a low-maintenance, pleasant companion. He wasn’t supposed to want to beat the living shit out of her ex-boyfriend, wasn’t supposed to lose control and take her against a rough wooden barrel, wasn’t supposed to feel like kissing her feet out of gratitude for letting him. He wasn’t supposed to have to worry that she might leave him for the wanker who rejected her, worry that she was settling for him, because of course she was settling for him. That was the whole f**king point.

  Everything was wrong. It was just wrong. He didn’t love her. Not yet.

  And even if he did, he’d been shown again and again that his love wasn’t quite enough.

  What if she left him? What if she had his kid and left him, and instead of just Charlie, there’d be another child out there in the world that he loved and failed? What if Honor Grace Holland, who was everything her name implied, decided she wanted something different? He’d be ruined, even worse than he already was.

  Two hours later, Tom was sitting in his classroom at Wickham. In his in-box was an email from Jacob Kearns, asking for a recommendation to the University of Chicago, where he was hoping to transfer for the fall semester.

  The one good student Tom had. It probably didn’t matter. Tom would be back in England, anyway, now that his reason for staying was moving to Philadelphia.

  The door opened. “Ah! Tom! Vat are you doing, sitting here all alone! I thought you vould be home with dee luffly Honor! She called for you, did you know?”

  “Droog. How are you?” Tom dragged his eyes off his computer screen to the head of his department.

  “I am well, thank you, Tom! I think I have met Dee One, as you say. She is so. . . beautiful. ”

  “That’s great, mate. I’m glad for you. ”

  “And I heff good news, Tom! Again and again, I petitioned dee board of dee college, and yes! You vill heff your vork visa after all!”

  Ah, irony, always good for a brisk slap. A green card right at the exact moment when he no longer needed it.

  * * *

  HONOR WAS STILL awake when he got home, Ratty sprawled on her back on the cushion next to her.

  “Hi,” she said, lurching to her feet. On the telly was an X-ray of a woman with a metal hook in her eye, so it must be World’s Best Impalements, one of those nasty shows she loved. He’d almost miss those. “Listen, Tom, I’d like to say something. ”

  “I’ve some news,” he said.

  “Oh. Okay. ”

  He took the remote and turned off the show. “The college has renewed my work visa. ”

  “That’s great!” Then his words seemed to register, because her face changed. “Oh. ”

  “Right. Also, Charlie’s moving to Pennsylvania with his father. ” The words, jammed in his chest for so long, came out in a surprisingly smooth rush. He looked at her dog. “So I don’t. . . require you to commit fraud any longer. ” He paused, forcing himself to look back at her. “And I will always be tremendously grateful that you were willing to do so. ”

  Her face was pale. “Are you breaking up with me?” she whispered.

  “Yes. I’m sorry. ”

  She swallowed, her throat working. “Tom, I— Look, I know what you said. That you don’t love me, and I believe you. But I think you could, maybe. And I already lo—”

  “Don’t say it, darling. ”

  She paused and pressed her lips together. “But I do. I love you. You’re right, what you said before. We were getting married for other people and other reasons, but that’s not true, not anymore, not for me. I’d still marry you, Tom. I’d take good care of you. ”

  The words hit his dead heart and seemed to bounce right back off. “I’m sure you would, sweetheart,” he said as gently as he could. “I’m not sure the reverse is true of me, however. ”

  “I think it is,” she whispered. “I think I’d be lucky to be married to you. ”

  He went to her, and pressed a kiss on her forehead. “The fact is,” he said in a whisper, “I’m all used up inside, love. ”

  Two tears slid down her cheeks. “That’s not how I see you at all. ”

  “Which says more about you than it does about me, darling. I’m sorry. ”

  He was.

  And after that, there was nothing left to say.

 

 

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  HONOR WAS LIVING in the New House once again.

  Oddly enough, her family had been stunned by the breakup. Even Mrs. J. and Goggy, who knew the truth, seemed stricken. Dad wanted to put off his own wedding, which Honor wouldn’t hear of. Faith and Pru had come over to console her, but Honor was oddly calm, saying only that things hadn’t quite worked out, and no, she didn’t have hopes for a reconciliation. Jack offered to beat Tom up (not that Jack could, but it was a sweet thought, anyway), then stayed to watch Emergency Amputations with her.

  The house was quiet with Dad and Mrs. J. in the apartment, where they intended to stay, despite the fact that there was roughly ten times more room in the New House. For the first time ever, Honor was living alone, at the ripe old age of thirty-five. In college and grad school, she’d always had a roomie. But now she found the solitude comforting.

  This would be where she’d live forever, more than likely, Honor thought one night as she drifted from room to room. Faith and Levi wanted to stay in the Village. Pru and Carl had a great house on the other side of town, and Jack lived in a house he built a few years ago.

  It was strange being back, surrounded by her parents’ things. She’d lived with Tom for five weeks, and yet it had been hard to leave the little house. She waited till he’d been at work, and she went into his room once more, breathed in the smell of him and left her lovely engagement ring, so different from the one she thought she wanted, on the bureau.

  Back to the New House, which had an air of abandonment about it, even if Mrs. J. still vacuumed twice a week religiously.

  So if it was hers, it was time to make it truly so. After checking with Dad, Honor told her siblings to come over and raid whatever their father and Mrs. J. didn’t want. Ned had an apartment in the Opera House apartment building where Faith and Levi used to live, so he took a good bit of furniture, and Abby claimed a few things for the future, as she’d be headed off to college next year. Pru and Carl had finished the basement and took a queen-size bed for reasons best kept (but not actually kept) private.

  Then Honor broke out the paint, starting with her bedroom. What had once been pale blue became fire-engine red. Her sedate quilt was replaced with a fluffy white comforter that looked like a cloud, and an array of various-size pillows, which were instantly claimed by Spike. Had a chair reupholstered in big blue polka dots and put it by the window overlooking the big maple. A fluffy white rug, a dark mahogany cedar chest and, best of all, a mobile she found at the gift shop in town—little paper birds in a riot of color. Sh
e went to the used book store and bought two shopping bags full of romance novels and horror stories and fully intended to read them all.

  No longer was this the bedroom of a spinster workaholic. This was the room of a woman who was, finally, comfortable with herself. Who could relax. Who appreciated some creature comforts. Who wouldn’t mind shagging in that big mahogany bed.

  The thought of shagging someone other than Tom, however, held no appeal.

  But things would change. She wouldn’t be alone forever.

  Just for now. For a little while, and then she’d register on those dating websites again and find someone nice. Or she’d check out the sperm bank again. Or call an adoption agency. She wouldn’t mind an older kid, even someone with an attitude. If she could win over Charlie, she could probably win over anyone.

  Except for Tom, that was.

  The eggs remained silent.

  It was May, the month of apple blossoms and lilacs, and tourism season was perking up. The seaplane show on Keuka was coming, and there’d be a tasting on the green that weekend, too. Dad and Mrs. Johnson’s wedding was next weekend, and after that, Honor had a sales trip to the city planned. In the meantime, tour buses pulled into Blue Heron’s lot daily, and Honor and Ned led two tours a day each. Every time they came to the cask room, her heart would thud.

  And though she tried so hard to be practical, she missed Tom so much she ached. Missed his crooked smile, his sudden laugh, his mouth, his soft gray eyes, his endless patience with Charlie, even the way he called Spike Ratty. She missed his accent, the way he called her darling, missed his big hands and irreverent sense of humor. Missed sleeping with him, not just for the sex (though yes, there was definitely that). But she also missed the sound of his breathing, the warmth of his skin, the way it felt to wake up with his heavy arm around her, the slight crinkling of his eyes when he was about to make a joke. Spike’s little snores and propensity for hogging the pillow just weren’t enough anymore.

  Charlie was gone. Abby said she’d gotten a text saying goodbye. That was all.

  On the fifteenth night of staying home, Honor was climbing the walls. Should she reorganize the bookcases in the living room? Cook? Bake? Eat? Watch Plastic Surgeries Gone Wrong, which was having a marathon tonight?

  What would Mom advise?

  These past weeks, when her heart felt bruised and weak, Honor missed her mother almost unbearably. Mom would’ve been brisk and sympathetic both, finding things for Honor to do, kicking Dad out of the room and sitting down with some pithy words of wisdom. She summoned her mom’s memory as best she could, the smooth curve of her neck, the smell of her hair, her pretty, capable hands.

  “What should I do, Mom?” she asked her mother’s picture.

  Get out and let the wind blow the stink off. It was one of her mom’s favorite sayings, and the woman had a point.

  Time to go to O’Rourke’s. No more catfight talk; now she could answer the question of What happened, honey? with the line she had prepared—We just weren’t suited for each other in the end.

  Right up there in truthfulness with I’m too busy for a relationship right now.

  Because Tom had felt pretty perfect to her. Not every day, no, and not at first. But now, she couldn’t imagine loving someone as much as she loved Tom Barlow. She’d loved Brogan for years, sure, but that had been a childish love, one-sided and unrealistic. She’d idolized Brogan.

  Tom, she knew. Flaws and qualities both. He was real. He was home, he was hers.

  Or he had been. Almost.

  Great. She was crying. With a sigh, she wiped her eyes and gave herself a mental slap.

  “Spike, I’m leaving. If you eat my shoes, it will come out of your allowance, okay? Love you, sweetie. ” Spike wagged, then leaped up on the couch and burrowed under the throw pillow, her tiny head sticking out as if begging to be the cover shot on a calendar of Ridiculously Cute Dogs. Honor kissed her, scratched her little bitty chin and headed into town.

  She opened the door to O’Rourke’s, and there he was.
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